5&5: News and science highlights from June 2011

July 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Posted in News and Science Bulletins | Leave a comment

If you want to keep track of newly-published science and news stories about chemicals and health, don’t forget to visit our on-line archive. You can filter items according to subject and even create custom RSS feeds for your website.


An example of Roundup-use as an alternative to mowing in apple orchards. Regulators stand accused of failing to disclose evidence of Roundup's possible teratogenicity. Image by Mnolf, Wikimedia.

Roundup Birth Defects: Regulators Knew World’s Best-Selling Herbicide Causes Problems, New Report Finds. Industry regulators have known for years that Roundup, the world’s best-selling herbicide produced by U.S. company Monsanto, causes birth defects, claims a new report. “Our examination of the evidence leads us to the conclusion that the current approval of glyphosate and Roundup is deeply flawed and unreliable,” write the authors.

The Toxins in Baby Products (and Almost Everywhere Else). New chemicals, brought in as old ones are banned on safety grounds, are often share the toxic properties of the chemicals they have replaced, in what has been described as a “continuing pattern of unfortunate substitution”.

Questions Persist: Environmental Factors in Autoimmune Disease. An in-depth article about the rise in the “sprawling family of illnesses” which constitute autoimmune disease and what might be causing it, from variations in genetics to the environment.

Debating BPA’s Toxicity. Excellent overview from Chemical and Engineering News describes the causes of the regulatory impasse on BPA, as industry defends a multi-billion dollar market and environmental health groups advocate a more cautious approach to using chemicals not yet proven to be safe. C&EN also note the focus on baby bottles and cans disregards potential exposure from other sources, such as receipt paper, and examines how BPA’s usefulness has made it ubiquitous.

2011 Green Chemistry Awards. This year a paints specialist won an award for creating a family of water-based alkyd paints using soybean oil and recycled polyethylene terephthalate as raw materials, which significantly reduces volatile organic compound emissions.


New animal evidence suggests that exposure to certain POPs may exacerbate the effects of a high-fat diet. Image by Bobak Ha'Eri, Wikimedia.

New research into diabetes. Two rat studies suggest that phthalates and organophosphate pesticides may be involved in the onset of diabetes. The first study found that rats exposed early in life to organophosphate insecticides gained excess weight faster and showed worse metabolic than unexposed rats when fed on a high-fat diet. The second study looked at exposure to DEHP, finding that rats exposed to the phthalate at a young age were more likely to experience beta cell dysfunction as adults.

The results of three human epidemiological studies were also published. The first study confirmed previous reports relating PCB exposure to diabetes, finding that women exposed to PCBs from working in a capacitor plant were more likely to be diabetic. The second study echoed the first, finding that elderly people with T2 diabetes were likely to have higher levels of PCBs and organochlorine pesticides in their blood. The third study provided some human evidence to corroborate animal studies linking phthalate exposure with diabetes, finding that women with higher exposure to phthalates were more likely to be diabetic, although this study was exploratory.

Role of developmental immunotoxicity and immune dysfunction in chronic disease and cancer. A paper critiquing current standards of chemical safety testing, contrasting “drug discovery efforts using cutting-edge immunology” against immunotoxicity testing which “clings to an outdated understanding of the immune system and its relationship to disease”, lacking the “capability of protecting against the most prevalent pediatric immune dysfunction-based diseases”. Stern stuff.

Estrogen-initiated transformation of prostate epithelium derived from normal human prostate stem-progenitor cells. Study providing the first direct evidence that human prostate progenitor cells are estrogen targets, and that estradiol in an androgen-supported milieu is a carcinogen for human prostate epithelium. In layman’s terms, it shows that malignancy can be caused by hormones and not just DNA damaging events – a significant finding, given concerns about the potential for some chemicals to act like oestrogens in the body.

Environmental Exposures and Mammary Gland Development. One study looking at how BPA may increase risk of mammary cancer found evidence for two mechanisms: firstly, alterations in the development of the mammary gland which make it more susceptible to being harmed by carcinogens; and the second by promoting tumour growth by interfering with oestrogen signalling. A review of how the safety of chemicals such as BPA is assessed called for testing of the ability to alter mammary gland development to be incorporated into chemical test guidelines and risk assessment.

Sex-specific influence of exposure to bisphenol-A between adolescence and young adulthood on mouse behaviors. Study whose results suggest that long-term exposure to low levels of BPA between adolescence and young adulthood alters non-reproductive behaviours of male and female mice. No obvious changes were found in the serum hormone levels or in the weights of reproductive organs. Since organ weight is still a key toxicity indicator in current toxicity testing, this study adds weight to the case for modernising toxicity testing to include other, more subtle, health outcomes.

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